Each day this week our writer Vaughn will be putting up an article about one particular level, place, moment, in a game that’s really captures the titles essence but because of this there could be spoilers ahead. It’s called Levelling Out, and for the final day he’s looking at Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.
Activision’s Call of Duty franchise is arguably the biggest game franchise around at the moment, and easily the biggest selling shooter of all time. Every publisher, especially EA, wants to create the next hit that dwarfs Infinity Ward and Treyarch’s creation. However, it wasn’t always the big selling top-dog it is now. In fact, the series only really took off when the World War II storyline was ditched in favour of a future conflict based around plausible forecasts.
Before it evolved into the utterly unbelievable tirade of explosions, one-liners and repetitive gunplay that so many seem to adore, there was Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Infinity Ward’s change of tact means that Modern Warfare became a seperate entry into the series in its own right. But still, the original entry holds one of the best levels you’ll find across all eight iterations: ‘All Ghillied Up’.
Tasked with taking down an arms dealer who’s been trading uranium fuel rods for weapons, you head into the irradiated wasteland that is the ghost town of Prypiat inside the Chernobyl reactor exclusion zone. It’s here that you sneak through fields, the abandoned town – past iconic landmarks like the deserted ferris wheel – to apartment blocks that have been ravaged by nature. Taking up roost on the third floor of a disused flat, a young (and also not yet Captain) Price and a Captain MacMillan camp for three days waiting for their target Imran Zakhaev.
While it’s an impressive moment lining up the killing sniper shot – having to account for windspeed and bullet drop distance – killing Zakhaev isn’t what makes All Ghillied Up a memorable level. Surprisingly it’s not even the ghost town of Prypiat that does it either – although it really does help to set the sombre tone. Compared to everything else that Call of Duty throws at you, especially in Modern Warfare, it’s the missions slower pace that helps it stand apart from the bombastic action that bookends the level.
Working your way through the fields just outside of Prypiat, it’s all about stalking enemies and avoiding pools of irradiated water. It’s about discovering whats in the environment around you and using it to your advantage, blending into it with the help of your ghillie. After the modern setting of the main story arc, which has an abundance of machine guns and fully automatic weapons to fire about the place, All Ghillied Up’s 1994 setting is a breath of fresh air. Equipped with a few packs of C4, a pistol, knife and a sniper rifle, this feels very much like a back-to-basics approach.
Tactically things play out incredibly different to any other mission in the series. If anything it feels more in line with how classic Call of Duty played: lining up shots of encamped enemies and taking a shot with a bolt action rifle in hopes it hit and they wouldn’t spot you and alert others. It’s terrific fun utilising cover and your ghilie to break enemy lines of sight so you can pop out and take them down.
It may not be one of the most poignant, subtle, or moving moments in a game franchise - especially compared to other entries in Levelling Out. But for anyone who’s played Call of Duty from the very beginning, it’s undeniable that no other mission across the franchise stands out in players memories quite like this.